Senate Rules chairman joins calls for rapid coronavirus testing for lawmakers, staff

Blunt has discussed rapid testing with Capitol physician

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is among the lawmakers supporting rapid testing on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is among the lawmakers supporting rapid testing on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 6, 2020 at 2:59pm

The chairman of the Senate committee charged with overseeing operations of the Capitol has talked to the attending physician about the mechanics of deploying rapid testing for members and staff.

“I am in agreement of the view that we should find a way to test members and staff, and that it is not taking resources away from other people, but instead it’s dealing with a group of people that uniquely come together and spread out all over the country, in a way that tries to be respectful to other people's health care needs,” Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt said Wednesday.

Blunt, a Missouri Republican, was expressing agreement with the view of another senior senator, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Both men are close allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who joined with Speaker Nancy Pelosi declining an administration offer to provide Congress rapid testing kits.

Alexander said Congress itself could turn into a “virus spreading machine,” if members are flying in-and-out of Washington on a regular basis without routine tests.

Like Alexander on Tuesday, Blunt said Wednesday the goal was to help protect, “all of the people on every airplane that a member of Congress is on.”

“If I fly all the way home to Springfield, Missouri, I’m on two flights going and two flights coming back,” he said.

Blunt also said there is ample space on the Senate side of Capitol Hill for the Office of the Attending Physician to set up testing facilities if the equipment is obtained.

“I talked to the Capitol physician about it one day this week. I’m confident we could come up easily with the space we would need in space that otherwise would be used as swing space for senators after the election,” Blunt said.

There is an assortment of overflow space in the Senate office buildings that is normally used for senators-elect to begin setting up their offices, as well as for the transition when retiring lawmakers prepare to depart from the Capitol.

Blunt, who also serves as chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Health and Human Services, said there were multiple options for deploying rapid testing.

The White House has deployed a system developed by Abbott Laboratories for quickly testing for the coronavirus individuals who will be coming in to contact with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

“There’s that test, which I’ve taken at the White House as everybody else does who goes to the White House,” Blunt said in response to questions from The Washington Post’s Paul Kane on behalf of the congressional press corps. “There’s also another test that the Air Force I believe has purchased, that I’ve given information to the Capitol physician about that would allow tests that would be quick and well beyond just the member level.”

On April 20, the Air Force announced that it had reached an agreement with Curative Inc., for a research and development contract for a coronavirus testing system that uses samples of oral fluid.

“For over two years, we’ve been accelerating our government purchasing system to work with innovative tech startups who need fast decisions and cash,” Will Roper, the Air Force’s assistant secretary for acquisitions, said in a statement last month. “We had the right innovation network in place to find this potentially game-changing test and strike a deal at wartime speeds. Our men and women in uniform, and our nation, need a highly-scalable coronavirus test.”

Over the weekend, Pelosi, D-Calif., and McConnell publicly rejected rapid coronavirus testing capability that was being offered to congressional leadership by the White House.

But Blunt and others have said using such a system on Capitol Hill would not really be about protecting the lawmakers themselves.

"I think if you're going to bring people in here from all over the country and send them back out to … 535 different places in America, that it’s totally reasonable to have tests not just to protect us, but to protect all of the other people that are involved in that travel,” Blunt said.

John M. Donnelly contributed to this report.